Excerpt: Pretty Boy Dead (a Kendall Parker Mystery)
The call came through Sergeant Kendall Parker’s cell during his regular morning coffee run to the Landmark diner on Cheshire Bridge Road. Moments later, the detective slapped a blue light on the roof of his silver-blue cruiser and sped through the Morningside neighborhood, an overpriced in-town section on the northern fringes of the city. He turned off Cheshire Bridge Road to Piedmont and punched the accelerator after maneuvering around a few startled drivers. The traffic proved thicker than he’d expected this morning, forcing him to jockey along Piedmont Avenue and zigzag through the southbound lanes. The call had directed him to Piedmont Park, a popular one hundred and sixty-eight-acre triangle of land in the heart of Midtown, originally named for its crop-producing milieu connecting downtown and the tony Buckhead community lying northeast of the city. A body found in a runoff ditch at the park’s southernmost corner revealed no identification or apparent cause of death. The male victim had likely washed downstream during last night’s heavy spring ran.
Turning east on Monroe, Parker spotted a pair of blue and whites angled on 10th Street across from Grady High School’s new football and track field. Early rising joggers sprinkled the gravel running track that circled the perimeter of the field, several gawking at the flashing lights invading their area.
The Criminal Investigation Division dispatched at least three investigators to the scene of every death in the city: two from Homicide and another from either Sex Crimes or the Robbery unit. CID personnel received their orders from the homicide detective on call even though the homicide sergeant ultimately ran the investigation. Sgt. Kendall Parker led the charge today. Most referred to him by last name only. Parker was a major-crimes investigator for the department, CID, his rank Master Sergeant, a ten-year veteran with APD, the last six with the Homicide Squad.
Parker ran two wheels of his car over the curb and killed the motor, extricating his linebacker frame from the vehicle and striding across the grassy plane toward the dark blue uniform standing at the perimeter of a paved walking trail. He flashed his shield to a beat cop standing guard at the scene, who pointed him in the direction of the body without introduction.
Head down to protect his face from the assault of thorns, he trudged through a thicket of overgrowth and underbrush, the branches snatching at his trousers and poking through the fabric, nicking his flesh. He emerged at the crest of a wide drainage ditch. Looking out, he noticed that the storm basin sliced through the southeastern edge of the park and vanished through a giant steel cylinder set beneath 10th Street. He came upon a second cop sitting on the angled concrete about thirty yards from the body, and revealed his badge again.
“Anyone touched the body?”
“No sir,” the man called, shielding his eyes from the bright sun with an upraised arm and stood to meet the sergeant. “Ain’t let nobody down there, sir,” he said, jutting his chin toward the corpse below. “Waitin’ for the MPO.” He followed along, but became alarmed when Parker did not stop. “Hey, you can’t go down there.”
The sergeant reached the precipice of the concrete gully. A body lay tangled in a web of branches and debris, face up in a flow of shallow water. The stiff wore a type of dark overcoat, raincoat, or canvas outerwear. A strong odor, often associated with a bloated cadaver, wafted in the breeze. Parker squatted, angled his six–foot four-inch frame to make the steep trek into the ditch, and walked the edge of water this side of the cadaver, careful not to contaminate the scene.
“Ignore me,” Parker called over his shoulder. “I won’t touch a thing,” he said, cursing the cop under his breath. Damn rookie.
The officer’s face glowed red. He perched himself in a spot above the basin, jotting the detective’s name and badge number in his spiral notepad while, no doubt, awaiting his supervisor.
The detective pushed mirrored shades over his head of thick, dark curls, his brown eyes sweeping the area. He withdrew a pocket notepad—as much a part of him as the shield he wore clipped on his belt—and noted the time, location, and weather conditions. Surveying the area, he sketched out the scene while completing a spiral search, working his way toward the remains. A crime scene crew would trudge the same route when they arrived to videotape the scene, but Parker needed his own notes for later recall.
“Call came in at 6:42 a.m.,” a voice said from behind the sergeant.
Parker scowled and glanced over his shoulder, recognizing Timothy Brooks, an overzealous rookie detective recently assigned to the squad.
Brooks clambered into the gully, slipping and sliding on his backside until the heels of his big wingtips caught hold at the bottom of the ditch but not before his right foot landed in the water.
“Watch it,” Parker pointed and snapped. “You’ll fuck up the scene.”
“Sorry.” Brooks stepped back shaking water from his shoe. “Homeless man spotted the body at first light.” He continued without missing a beat and brushed the seat of his pressed khakis. “Perelli’s taking his statement up near the toilet-house. Dispatch traced the call to the emergency phone up there.”
Brooks sported a wide, Cheshire cat grin as he approached his new boss and stopped several feet from the body, tucking both hands in the flat-front pockets of his trousers. The beat cop resting on the embankment ventured forward.
Parker shook his head and waved his arms at both of them. “Get the hell back.”
Brooks obliged, retracing his steps double-time and shuffling the objecting officer back up the embankment. The cop shouted expletives indecipherable to Parker as he turned his attention back to the cadaver. Brooks had to learn his preference for spending a few minutes alone at a fresh crime scene, so best start now. Parker viewed the precious time alone a ritual of sorts, a rite of passage earned by years of long hours spent investigating the deaths of others. He’d be chastised by his commanding officer later.
A body commanded the heart of any homicide. Parker’s badge required him to confront the remains, regardless of circumstance or condition. Years of experience had taught him emotional detachment was the key to any successful investigation and although that theory may work for some, deep down inside he knew better. Soon, he’d relinquish a piece of his soul to this abandoned corpse, as with every other that followed. Truth be told, he died a little death at the beginning of every homicide investigation.
A cool breeze drifted through the basin and eased the queasiness in his gut. He popped a handful of antacids in his mouth and slipped a pair of latex gloves on before kneeling over the sunbaked cadaver. Clicking on the handheld recorder that he carried in his pocket, he described the body in detail. “Male, Caucasian, late teens-early twenties, approximately 5’10, one-hundred seventy to eighty pounds. Dark hair trimmed close, and no obvious signs of trauma. Clothes appear expensive and not threadbare, not the mark of a vagrant or a street kid,” he said. He swallowed a build-up of phlegm at the back of his throat. The stale, decaying odor skimming the surface of trickling water in the gully was stifling. He continued moving his eyes in a grid pattern over the discovery.
Parker avoided looking at the blanched face, the cloudy blue eyes, and bloated skin of the body. He used a pen from his chest pocket to probe the collar of the victim’s overcoat, lifting the damp fabric of the shirt beneath. A thick, gold chain surrounded the puffy neck, herringbone links wedged into the skin sparkling in the bright sunlight. In the murkiness to his left, a large dial, chrome-banded watch clung to a swollen wrist. The awkward angle of the arm displayed the crystal of the timepiece, cracked and filled with water, time frozen at a quarter past one, perhaps a clue to time of death. The right hand of the victim held a dark leather glove.
Leaning over the body for closer inspection, Parker speculated how the kid might have ended up like this, a technique he often used to get inside the victim’s head, sifting through pieces of the scene and condition of the body to connect the dots. These days, nothing in his line of work appeared simple and straightforward. Days, perhaps weeks, would pass before he would ferret out the reason behind the young man’s death, if ever.
The smell of raw sewage tickled the hairs in his nostrils as he studied the body. Despite the scripts churned out of Hollywood like a carnival music machine, cops never became used to seeing such gore, the sickly-sweet scent of rotting flesh, vicious crimes against another human being. The carnage worked to further harden their hearts from life’s other assaults and question the existence of faith, forcing the soul into tolerance and acceptance. The detective displayed impenetrable tolerance, but acceptance? Never. It came with the territory.
Parker stared at the corpse, seeing not the man lying before him, but the haunting image of another. The obsession was never far from his mind, clouding his thoughts and perhaps his judgment. It was an effigy of a young man taller and wider-shouldered than the one lying flat in the stream of water, an imagined reflection sinking to the depths of much deeper water no amount of scotch could erase. The urge to reach out and grasp the phantasm in his mind’s eye passed as a prickly chill nipped the back of his neck and reminded him that he had a job to do.
He called out for Brooks to join him.
The rookie bounded down the slope on cue.
“Have you called the M.E.?”
Brooks nodded in bobble-head speed.
“So, where the fuck is she?”
Parker stood after finding no identification on the body. A reflection caught the corner of his eye as he turned to walk away. Shifting his feet to the outer perimeter of the corpse, careful not to disturb the zone, he reached over a mound of debris and lifted the edge of a waterlogged matchbook with the tip of his pen. He recognized the name embellished across the silvery cardboard. It belonged to a small neighborhood bar up the road and across from the park.
“Get some men to search the grounds for evidence,” Parker said, leaving the matchbook where he found it. “See if you can locate the missing glove…and a cell phone.”
“Cell phone, sir?” Brooks asked.
“The victim’s cell. Everyone has a cell phone these days, and it ain’t on the body.”
Parker glanced back at the dead man, a moment of antipathy passing through his core before turning away, the lasting image taking its place among countless others extolled in his memory. “Put in another call for the ME.”
The sergeant ripped off the latex gloves and stuffed them in the pocket of his coat.
A murdered male stripper.
A missing go-go dancer.
When the mangled body of a young gay man is discovered in a popular Atlanta park, advocacy groups converge on City Hall demanding justice. Media are quick to pin the brutal homicide on a drug-addicted, homeless teen. Atlanta Detective Sgt. Kendall Parker isn’t so convinced, even after the suspect assaults his homicide partner with a deadly weapon. But the investigation takes a disastrous turn, and a suspect in custody ends up dead.
It becomes a race against time for the veteran detective to solve the apparent gay-bashing, but when a tenacious reporter threatens to expose a police cover-up, Parker is forced to make an impossible choice: stand firm for justice, or betray the brotherhood in blue.
The odds against him, Parker will need to rely on his keen instinct and experience as a streetwise cop to catch a brutal killer. Yet success often comes at a price, and for Parker, it may mean having to reveal his most closely guarded secret.
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Jon Michaelsen is a writer of Gay fiction & Speculative fiction, most with elements of mystery and suspense/thriller.
Born near the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Southwest Georgia, at ten he moved with his family to Atlanta, where he has remained. With more time to focus on writing after retiring from a corporate career of twenty-five years, he began publishing short-fiction for a few years before debuting his first novel, Pretty Boy Dead, which earned a Lambda Literary Finalist gold seal for Best Gay Mystery.
He continues to publish both short fiction and long fiction, while drafting his second novel in the Kendall Parker Mystery series, The Deadwood Murders, which is scheduled for publication in Spring 2019.
He lives with his husband of 32 years, and two monstrous terriers.
Contact him at: Michaelsen.firstname.lastname@example.org
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